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tv   [untitled]    February 11, 2012 6:30pm-7:00pm EST

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"battle cry of freedom?" i took it to jim the next morning, and he signed it to millard hunter, a fellow scholar of the civil war. and my dad floated back to new hampshire. he still treasures that. jim has also helped me with my work, since i've jumped off the tenure track. one of the things i have done in the last decade is make sure that my hometown remembers that they had a very significant civil war hero come from little new york, james wadsworth, who was the richest man in the north who gave up everything at the age of 53 to enlist in the army. he eventually ended up dying after the battle of the wilderness, and there really wasn't any commemoration of him
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in his hometown. i always joked that if it had been in the south, there would have been a statue before the body was cold. that was not true in more reserved upstate. so when we started a campaign to get a statute of general wadsworth put on the courthouse lawn where it should be. a courthouse without a statue is naked after all, james mcpherson came and gave the inaugural lecture of our campaign, attended a reception with people who donated and was endlessly patient with everyone. it was a very important way for us to start our effort. i'm pleased to say that our courthouse is no longer naked. but i think the most personally compelling example of jim's generosity is that even though as i mentioned i jumped off the
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tenure track professionally, he kept asking me back to do alumni colleges. when it came time to organize the conference in honor of his retirement, jim asked that i be included, which then led to my contributing to his trip. what an act of generosity. but that is typical of james mcpherson. thank you. >> associate professor of history. influential, recommend latest prize winning book and recently was abroad, i believe, in israel with the mcfersons. thavolia.
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>> good morning. it's really an honor to have been been invited to participate especially because i'm not a mcpherson student under grad or graduate. when vernon e-mailed me, first of all you can't say no to vernon. secondly, i did feel quite honored to be invited to say a few words. jim's work and his friendship have been really important to my life as a human being and as a scholar and his wife pat. we did travel together this past summer in israel do to the heart work of one of his students i see in the back here who organized this wonderful conference at hebrew university. i also had wonderful times with pat and jim at gettysburg.
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my children remember fondly riding and walking that battlefield with him as their leader. so to talk about his contributions to african-american history, but vernon has already done that. so any rate i'll say a few words. as a professor at princeton, mcpherson has walked battle fields with countless students and visitors to the nation's civil war battle fields. it is a way, he has said, to better understand military tactics and the outcomes of battles, and the importance of military history to the historical record. of late, my own work has got me tonging a lot about battle fields and about walking them, literally and figuratively. this opportunity to speak on mcpherson's life and the academy
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and in the public sphere, it seemed fitting to reflect on this question of walking america's battle fields. so while my assignment today has been preempted, i will still say a bit about his work in the field of african-american history and about walking battle fields. mcpherson is known worldwide as the preeminent historian of the u.s. civil war. as a scholar of its battles and soldiers and politics, most people i imagine would not think of him as an african-american historian. but that is where, in a sense, he began his journey as a scholar. he published his first book based on his dissertation at johns hopkins, struggle for equality, abolitionists and negro and civil war and reconstruction in 1964.
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followed in 1965 by the negro civil war, how american negroes felt and acted during the war for the union. it had been by that point some three decades since the publication of dubois's reconstruction in 1965 and the negro and civil war in 1938. another had and 10 years before in 1953. willie lee rose's rehearsal for reconstruction, the port royal experiment and the same year as mcpherson struggled for equality. mcpherson's early work came at the height of the '60s civil rights struggle and he has written and spoken eloquently on the impact that this had on his decision to pursue a dissertation topic on aboliti abolitioni abolitionists. his call of a civil rights activist of the 1860s.
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he pursued this dissertation and subject despite being told at the time by leading scholars it was simply impossible to do this kind of work because his sources did not exist. at the time some scholars held mcpherson's work as both important and timely. evidence, one wrote, at the beginning of a revolution still in progress. his effort to draw more attention to black people and the struggle for union and freedom to the role of abolit n abolitionist slaves and soldiers drew visceral reactions of the kind that greeted such scholars as dubois and others. a review of civil war and historical georgia quarterly accused mcpherson of taking a leaf out of a book and arguing that black people, slaves in particular, were restless during the civil war. whenever they got a chance to run away they did so and joined
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the labor force of the union armies. further the reviewer wrote mcpherson made the, quote, extreme statement that perhaps the war could not have been won without the help of the negroes. indeed a review of his work in the georgia quarterly had labeled the work an absurd bit of propaganda based on a perversion of historical facts, aimed to show negroes today, that is in 1938. the most amazing discovery he makes is the long sought-after reason the south lost the war. the negroes revolted and put a stop to it. a reviewer in the virginia magazine of history took um bridge at a similar suggestion. this reviewer willing to concede black people helped the cause of
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freedom. at what cost, he wrote, not to them, mind you but to slave holders. leaves the plantation this reviewer wrote black people created hardships for white people. they hurt food production and in some cases forced white people to flee. it was not a good find. mcpherson stepped up in the midst of this ahistorical work to tell a story of black people's contributions to the war for freedom. it is worth remembering, therefore, he was there from the beginning of the much debated topic of who freed the slaves. in the 1960s it is worth remembering, too, some of his colleagues placed him like they had dubois, at the most radical edge of the conversation. perhaps it was his decision to
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publish documents that spoke to black people's views during the war. perhaps it was his discussion in 1964 of how the u.s. congress during the war -- or after the war had backed down from a more radical version of the 15th amendment that would have forbidden denial of the vote not only on previous condition of servitude but also property, education, nativity, and sex. perhaps it was his account of the gideonites in the sea islands and the land struggle that angered people. many of the things, though, with which we still struggle are present in his early work. the debate over lincoln, the northern missionaries, the land question, the voting question, a question of the contraband and black soldiers, the commitment of lincoln and northerners to the full freedom of the ex-slaves. mcpherson was more of a pioneer, however, perhaps in linking the
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past to the present. scholars to the public, walking the public through hits story i its narrative form and actual grounds. that is perhaps the signal legacy and i wish it extended. i wish there was more walking of battle fields and that these battle fields included places of enslavement during the civil war. less than a week ago i was on one of these battle fields and a plantation in the lowcountry in south carolina which is my home state. where the landscape enchants, emancipation is silenced, a reenactor on the grounds tells me a story, a story of how after the war former owners came back and how they worked so hard to take care of black people who had foolishly believed in something called freedom. a brochure on the grounds of this place features a project to
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grow a small plot of sea island rice and sea island cotton. a photograph accompanying the text depicts black women working the crop. today i asked in reality if people are really back on the plantation. no, the crops are grown by volunteers but i am now even more puzzled. why, then, a photo of black women growing the crop today. this is a plantation burned down by federal troops in 1865 and further destroyed by black people enslaved there. how different, i wonder, as i walk these grounds would it be if james mcpherson conducted a battlefield tour of this plantation. i look out over the ashley river and imagine him walking these grounds and putting armies in their rightful places, union, confederate and enslaved. i imagine that there comes a time when this, too, will be hallowed ground. not for magnolia and mint julep
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fantasies but for the war for freedom and democracy that took place here. enslaved women in south carolina that jim writes about and the negro civil war who twice a day brought mills to northern soldiers will appear on this landscape alongside the black soldier he also talks about in that work who helps liberate from the horrible pit of bondage 10 women -- 10 men, six women and eight children. jim, here is a new project for you in your retirement. whether jim takes up this or not is immaterial. it is still a part of his legacy, the legacy he leaves to us and someone must take it up. on battle fields all over the south black people struggle for freedom and every inch of southern soil became embattled ground and mappable
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battleground. as mappable as gettysburg or the sea to vicksburg. they became archives of slavery's defeat. we may argue today and for years to come about this thing called self-emancipation versus lincoln and the union army as emancipators, but in the end going back to jim mcpherson, the question that appears as the subtitle of his book, how american negroes felt and acted during the war for the union remains as urgent as it was nearly 50 years ago when he wrote that book. perhaps more importantly, it is a part of mcpherson's life in american history. it's a part of his rearchiving of american history itself. i recall finally, and to close the memorable and all sided description of the formal surrender of lee's army that appears in battle cry of
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freedom. whether northern general joshua chamberlain orders his men to shift to carry arms as a salute of honor, while the confederate general gorton leads his men to this formal surrender, mcpherson writes, quote, these enemies in many a bloody battle ended the war with shame on one's side and exultation on the other but with the soldiers salutation and fairwell. it's that kind of salutation and fairwell, with no shame, that i think mcpherson walking the battle fields of the south would bring to us. thank you.
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>> city college in new york. he did his phd with legendary kenneth stamp at berkeley. like jim mcpherson is a winner of the lincoln prize. thank you. >> thank you i'm going to start on a more personal note than i'm used to, to the extent jim was my teacher. i never took a civil war class in my life. i never had one as an undergraduate. i never took a civil war class until princeton and was jim mcpherson's preceptor. it was from that point on my conception of myself as a
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historian changed. it was jim told me i had to read a book called killer angels, jim told me i should read three volume narrative of the civil war. from there i went on to devour the books others have written. it was jim who took me on my first battlefield tours of gettysburg and vicksburg. jim and i and pat and deb went to andersonville together. everything i think about the civil war is filtered through jim mcpherson. we share a kind of fundamentalist approach to the civil war, understanding this was a war about slavery from the start. but the truth is i went to princeton thinking of myself as a southern historian and i left princeton thinking of myself as a civil war historian.
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so you can imagine my surprise when a year or so ago a prominent publish erika up to me and suggested, well, it's almost 25 years since battle cry of freedom was published. maybe it's time we need a new synthesis, and maybe you should write it. i was shocked. first of all, 25 years. has it really been 25 years? it seems so fresh in my mind. second, why? why do we need a new -- would would we even need a new synthesis? has there been that much scholarship? do things change that much if you did rewrite it? also i thought, if i had 25 more years to study the civil war, i don't think i'd know as much about the civil war as jim knew when he got out of graduate school.
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even if i did know as much as he knew about the civil war, i don't think i'd have as much energy to be able to write that book. what's the five years between the previous one? even if i did know as much and, i don't think i'd have the energy to synthesize the social, political history, economic history of the war brought together so seamlessly and beautifully in those pages. two examples, they seem trivial but always stuck with me. there are four or five pages in the "battle cry of freedom" that struck me a as extraordinary. it can sound like an extremely boring topic. jim, not only does he explain in a few pages with extraordinary lucidity the way the north
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funded the war and south funded the war but why they funded wars differently and the enormous consequences of that fact they funded the war so differently. then the way he handles all the way through the war the problem of class conflict behind the lines as it were, especially in the south. he absorbs it, brings it in. it's part of his story. it's not the story. it's part of a broad story and all the way through. why bother? who could do something like that? it did get me thinking, what if i were to try it? how would i book i wrote be different? we are fundamentally fundamentalists about the civil war. there would be, of course, new scholarship. i don't think that would change
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things too much but it would be there, i suppose. it would probably be less emphasis on the conflict of cultures between the north and the south, not because i don't think the north and south were consult really distinct but because i think the civil war wasn't a conflict of cultures and because cultural conflicts and differences are ubiquitous. i live on the upper west side of manhattan. the easiest way to get a dinner conversation going is talk about vast differences of people who lives on the upper east side and upper west side. and you could probably get statistics to demonstrate that the difference is real. that wouldn't be there. the biggest difference really has to do something thavolia mentioned in her talk. jim really is a product of a particular era of a civil rights movement era. his work was inspired by that. it comes out of that moment in american history. where was i was 15 years old when richard nixon was elected.
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my adult life has been shaped really by a rising and deepening tide of conservatism. i don't look around and i never looked around and saw radical movements rising all over the place. i saw the opposite. that i think would shape the difference between the way i would frame the history of civil war and the way jim d the civil rights movement and abolitionist movement have a symbiotic relationship in the historiography. the '60s generation turned to abolitionism as a precedent. the freedom writers were new abolitionists. jim redefined it and made it relevant so is ceased to merely be a struggle to get slavery abolished and a much broader struggle for equality, racial
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equality. i'm more to think of it as a movement to abolish slavery with relationships to the question of civil rights, but fundamentally oriented towards that particular moment. for jim, then, the logical conclusion of the abolitionist movement, the abolitionist legacy as the second volume of the study of abolitionism is the founding of naacp. whereas for me it would be the end of the logical conclusion of abolitionism would be the 13th amendment. i think all of that difference between where he comes from and where i come from would shape the way we think about the sieve war, particularly origins of the civil war. that generation of the '60s and all the scholarship on abolitionism since then reversed a trend that had been going on
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since the 30s through the 1950s to focus, find anti-slavery origins of civil war and trace the movement of the abolitionist into politic, into the liberty party, free soil party into ultimately the republican party and see the continuities between those two party movements. whereas jim's generation tended to drive a wedge between aboliti abolitionism and i tend to see convergence over the course of those decades. that's probably where i would write a different kind of book from the one jim wrote. in battle cry, the origins of the civil war are not traced really to the anti-slavery movement. he traces a line from hamilton federalists anti-slavery to
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wiigs to republican answer. i would trace from abolitionist, liberty party, free soil party, republican party. jim was different in one critical way that i don't think is fully understood. for them the abolitionist legacy was fundamentally a historical question. it was about tracing actual historical significance of abolitionism into post-war struggles over civil rights and land and labor and voting rights all the way up to the founding of the naacp. it was a historical -- fundamentally a historical question. for other historians of that generation abolitionism was a study of precedence for liberal activism. as much as jim might have thought of it that way also he was really interested in the
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historical question not going around looking for radical precedents. that meant as the abolition movement got narrowed to most radical and the search for purest and greatest of radicals, jim moved in the other direction. in his later scholarship, because he never was mess merized by that cult of true radicalism i call it now, he was open to a broader understanding of the origins of the civil war, one that embraced abraham lincoln and the republican party rather than dismissed him as part of what frederick douglass called in his great 1876 about lincoln the great movement to destroy slavery in the united states. and so we see in his later work another shift in the direction of his scholarship toward an
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increasing understanding of how broad and how difficult and how important that struggle finally was, which is another way of saying 30 years later we are still in fundamental agreement about fundamental questions of what the great struggle of the mid 19th century was all about. thank you. [ applause ] >> currently holds george henry davis 1886 american history professor, that is jim's chair. he's an award winning public intellectual, most of us go back farther enough remember him primarily on the 19th century. i remember him when he was a premier social -- back to the mainstream, ronald reagan, bob
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dylan and popular music. >> i wanted to thank vernon very much for putting this together and everybody else who had a part of it. this is a wonderful occasion and i'm very proud and honored to be part of it. what i'm saying kind of repeats what has already been said but with a different angle, certainly an angle of my experience with jim mcpherson. for a quarter century i was privileged to be jim mcpherson's teaching colleague at princeton. i have him to thank directly for that as he was the chair of the search committee that hired me. i've never tried to thank him properly for that, because i couldn't possibly do so, so great is the debt. but i also have the privilege to share the classroom with him on numerous occasions. someone mentioned preceptorship
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at princeton, basically like having a t.a. back in the way old days of princeton, very distinguished senior scholars would actually be the t.a.s for recently hired assistant professors. it's like having in the civil war if you put raw recruits in charge of the generals. it was sort of strange. it was an extraordinary experience, try to teach american social history in one semester, which is insane in itself. jim as my preceptor, he was already quite distinguished was gentle but firm in telling this raw recruit just how crude some of his lectures actually were. i've never forgotten that. both the lessons historically but also the lessons as we've all been saying of jim as a gentleman. most often we taught at a
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